Self-Drive Trucks to be Tested on Nevada Roads


Freightliner, the big-rig manufacturer, has received a license to test their new autonomous driving tractor-trailer truck on the roads of Nevada.  The company had already created the technology and the vehicle but needed to test it on public highways, with the state agreeing they can do so.

No hands

The new self-driving vehicle will still have a driver in the driver’s seat but the Freightliner Inspiration has been designed to drive itself on the interstates.  There are currently two of the trucks in existence and they allow the driver to take over the full control whenever the truck is in city and suburban locations.  Nevada is one of the few states that have legislation allowing the use of a self-driving vehicle.

The Freightliner can stay in its own lanes and even avoid collisions without any input from the driver.  It uses cameras and radar sensors to monitor the surrounding traffic and the lines of the lanes.  The company is owned by Daimler AG, who make Mercedes Benz luxury cars and are also currently testing self-drive in their cars.

Safety issues

Executives from Freightliner said that trucks such as this could reduce the risk of driver fatigue, allowing drivers to be more productive.  It would mean that a driver could work on paperwork or plan out the route for another trip while the vehicle was on the interstate.

A further development could see fuel savings when the trucks drive in ‘platoons’.  The idea behind this is that a group of automated trucks could communicate with each other electronically and drive in a tight line behind a lead truck.  The aerodynamic benefits of this is that only the lead truck pushes through the air with the rest riding along in a bubble of sorts created by the first truck.

Wolfgang Bernhard, head of Daimler’s commercial truck operations, has no doubt that autonomous driving technology will find a place in the near future of the trucking industry.  He isn’t advocating a jump straight into it but following a process with the first step being getting the experimental trucks onto real roads.


However, Ted Scott, director of engineering for the American Trucking Association, said that at the moment, the new technology would simply increase costs, as the driver will still need to be paid exactly as before.

Nor is everyone an instant fan of the idea of rigs driving themselves.  Scott Grenerth from the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, a group representing independent trucks, has spent 13 years driving these big rigs and said he would be very nervous allowing an 80,000 pound vehicle to be controlled by sensors and camera.

Part of this is due to the stopping distances and limited manoeuvrability of the vehicles, meaning that there is an element of prediction about what is happening ahead needed to safely control one.  This foresight and intuition is very difficult to program into computers.

But it looks like self-driving vehicles are coming, though it seems they will be driving themselves along the highway long before they are driving up your street.


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